It used to be missionaries went to foreign countries and did exactly what the Great Commission says. Preaching, teaching, caring for the needy, and planting churches was what missionaries did. Today we are find ourselves in more catalytic roles trying to mobilize the Church in Ecuador to take on these responsibilities in their own Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and nations of the world.
About the time my wife and I came on the missionary scene in 1987, Ecuador mission work was heavily involved in developing the churches and ministries started by pioneer missionaries like my mom and dad. They plowed the fields and were part of planting the first Gospel seeds in many parts of this land.
After thirty years of pioneer-type work, the need arose for developing the work started by these first generation missionaries. Upon our arrival there were already missionary specialists in music, education, agriculture, seminary profs, student workers, bookstore managers, as well as what were known as "general field evangelists" serving in the work. Church development was at its height in the late 80's.
Over the past 25 years we have seen dramatic changes in the roles we have served under the umbrella of "missionary." When we first arrived in Ecuador our role was to serve as a...
-Mass Media Consultant. I was the Executive Director of the Media Department of the Ecuador Baptist Convention. We used radio, TV, and print media to generate evangelistic contacts for the churches. Over a period of years we worked closely with local churches to follow-up contacts and try to get them into existing churches.
-While continuing the media efforts, I was asked to serve as Music Minister for the largest Baptist church in the country. Choir rehearsals, worship services, staff meetings, and Christmas/Easter pageants became a big part of our week, as well as staying on top of the media production and follow-up.
-When the Ecuador Baptist Convention decided for economical reasons to down-size and focus only on a few key ministries, media was cut out of the organizational structure. The media role evolved into a telephone counseling ministry. At its pinnacle, we were in contact with 60,000+ seekers every month through the various levels of ministry.
-In 1997 the IMB's "New Directions" changed everything. We were asked to exit ASAP everything we had been doing to date. Almost overnight we found ourselves trying to figure out how to make Church Planting Movements happen in Ecuador. I was now wearing the hat of a "Church Planting Catalyst."
-Though many of us didn't know a thing about church planting, and had never spent a day of our lives in a house church, we soon found ourselves training others how to plant reproducing house churches.
-From 1997-2010 we went through several job titles and descriptions:
- Ecuador Mega-City Team Leader,
- Team Leader for Guayaquil Mestizos,
- Team Leader for Guayas Mestizos,
- Strategy Coordinator for Guayas, and finally
- Team Leader for the Coast and Lowlands of Ecuador.
-Now we are trying to figure out what it means to be an Affinity Mobilizer for Ecuador. Attached to this are other newly created responsibilities of being a Global Mobilizer. For those needing a glossary for what all these terms refer to, I completely understand! Basically, the task of an AM is to finish the job of reaching Ecuador for Christ. To do this we must partner, empower, mobilize, and use every resource available. The Global aspects involve mobilizing Ecuadorian missionaries to the nations along with all that this implies.
What I sense is most needed is not more American missionaries being assigned to Ecuador, but rather a needed shift in the roles existing missionaries play.
We need to see ourselves more in apostolic roles of encouragers, enablers, equippers, trainers, motivators, connectors, and coordinators. All these roles are mobilization roles--seeking to mobilize God's people to finish the task.
There will always be room for the first generation apostolic church planter. These are the ones who goes into unreached/under-reached territory to proclaim the Gospel, make disciples, and leave multiplying NT ekklesias. I am constantly looking for those who would be willing to partner with us. There is plenty of work remaining with literally hundreds of unreached communities, towns, and cities scattered all over this country.
However, in the later stages of a ripe harvest field (like Ecuador) I believe missionaries best serve by helping the church by assisting them to bring in the harvest. This entails helping the church:
- understanding what remains to be done,
- identifying where the Gospel needs to be preached (pockets of lostness),
- how to accomplish the task (strategy),
- making available the needed tools and training,
- coordinating the hundreds of mobilized laborers to bring in the harvest.
Another way of understanding this role change is to explain it this way: I can feel great about spending 30-40 hours a week directly engaged in proclaiming the Gospel, making disciples, baptizing 15-20 and hopefully planting 1-2 churches in a year's time...
I can spend that same time modeling, training, mobilizing several hundred others to do the same things, and at the end of the year see the Kingdom grow by dozens of churches and hundreds of baptisms and scores of new disciples who are also equipped to going out and making even more disciples.
In the first role we are the primary actors on stage. Everyone sees us, needs us, and looks to us for direction. In the second we are behind the scenes and the ones "seen" are those we are coaching. The difference in the way we understand our apostolic/missionary role is between planting a church, and being an instrument in the Spirit's hands for dozens of churches to be planted all over the region.
What do you think? As usual, your thoughts and observations are welcome.